Jane Macartney in Beijing
Ten people were wounded when Chinese paramilitary police opened fire on a crowd of Tibetans protesting against limits on a prayer ceremony and demanding the return of the Dalai Lama, witnesses said.
The violence was in a remote town in western Sichuan province on Saturday, where monks at the Lingque temple had been joined by several hundred pilgrims for an annual ceremony, the Torgya, which is meant to exorcise evil elements from society.
One witness said that the police appeared to grow anxious about the size of the crowd in a region of China where there have been demonstrations since protesters stabbed and stoned ethnic Han Chinese in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on March 14.
At about midday security forces ordered a halt to the ceremony but the demonstrators, including about 400 nomads, refused to leave. The crowd included monks, residents, students and even civil servants, who wore dust masks over their mouths as a rudimentary means to conceal their identity, one witness said.
The stand-off lasted for several hours. At one point the police opened fire to try to disperse the protesters and about ten people were wounded.
One resident told The Times: “The police opened fire. We could hear it. But I haven’t heard about any of the people throwing stones at the security forces.”
The US-sponsored Radio Free Asia reported that the wounded were taken into custody by the security forces. It quoted a witness as saying: “The monks called the head of Daofu county and warned that if those detained weren’t released all the monks would continue protesting, even if it meant they would be killed. So the county chief released those who were injured and detained.”
The Chinese authorities have been trying to end almost a month of protests and the depth of anti-Chinese sentiment among a Buddhist minority loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama. Last week in Donggu, which is also in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, paramilitary forces opened fire on protesters after a government official was seriously wounded. Eight people were killed, witnesses said.
In a statement from his home in exile in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama said that the demonstrations were “outbursts of long pent-up physical and mental anguish” that proved most Tibetans want freedom from Chinese rule. But he said that Tibetans should not try to disrupt the Olympics. “It will be futile and not helpful to anyone if we do something that will create hatred in the minds of the Chinese people,” he added.
The Communist party boss of Tibet said that the region was now stable but called for vigilance to prevent possible plots to sabotage the Olympic torch relay when it arrives in the Himalayan region.